#1: Ladurée #2: La Maison du Chocolat #3: Bosie Tea Parlor
When Robyn Lee first wrote about macarons in 2007, there were some, but not many macaron shops in New York; but fast forward to 2011 and they're all over the place.
Why the macaron explosion? There's so much to love about the confections, essentially two cookies sandwiching ganache, jam, or buttercream. First off, they're notoriously difficult to make. It's not like pumpkin bread or oatmeal cookies, something many can easily bake on a whim; macarons require planning, precision, and patience. (And even then it's easy to screw up.) Second of all, they're terribly French, another point in their favor. And as baked goods go, they're something of a fashion statement, the visual element as important as the flavor. They're a frequent sight at post-Fashion week parties, where it's rarely just about the macaron itself. Why do you think companies and brands go through so much effort for macaron packaging and design, coming out with seasonal collections and collectible boxes? A macaron made right is utterly gorgeous and delicious.
In our books, though, cosmetics come second to taste. So we tried hundreds of macarons all over New York, looking for the best the city has to offer.
Where We Macaron'ed
From 18 different highly regarded macaron shops in Manhattan, some specialty stores, some bakeries with a wider range, we ordered five standard flavors from which we judged the macarons.
Bosie Tea Parlor
Chikalicious Dessert Club
La Maison du Macaron
Mille-Feuille Panya Bakery
Francois Payard Bakery
Since we couldn't try every flavor, we chose five we thought were representative: Vanilla, Caramel, Chocolate, Raspberry (as a reflection of the fruit flavors) and Pistachio (our favorite of the nutty flavors, and one that most often goes wrong). From shops that didn't offer all those flavors (including ChikaLicious, DT Works, and Panya) we substituted the closest flavors available.
What Makes a Good Macaron?
First, there's the ratio to consider A cookie-to-filling ratio of 1:1 is ideal, a real layer of light filling against the cookies, not just a smear in between. A ratio that's dramatically off in either direction ruins the experience.
Fillings can be made of ganache (most common), buttercream, jam, or caramel. Whatever their form, the fillings should be smooth and light, nothing sticky or chewy. For a ganache filling, if it is of the right texture (slightly firm) and ratio (1:1), at no point in the macaron-eating process should any filling squeeze out the edges.
The cookie surface needs to be smooth, no bumps and bubbles. It should have little "feet," a ruffle ring around the base. Take just the cookie part and bite. Does the shell of the cookie easily shatter and give way to a tender and moist (but not soggy or wet) interior? That's what you want. The inside of the cookie should be slightly chewy and have no large air bubbles or irregular empty pockets.
And in terms of flavor, the macaron must be true to whatever it goes by. That means if you make a pistachio macaron, don't attempt to trick us with almond paste and then dye the macaron green with food coloring. (Too many places do this.) A good macaron is not too sweet; yes, macarons have sugar, but it shouldn't be sweet to the point where it masks the original flavor.
Size? You don't want too tiny or too small. The ideal macaron is just slightly larger than a quarter in circumference. Ladurée, La Maison du Chocolat, and Bosie Tea Parlor are good examples of this. Bouchon Bakery's large macarons have great flavor, but their truly gigantic size throws off proportion and the quality of the final product, with the outermost ring of the shell always overcooked and the center too chewy.
What Did We Like?
We tasted well over a hundred macarons, and when pitted against each other, it was a bit disheartening to find fault with macarons that we had previously thought decent. When you line up all the macarons, the difference between an excellent macaron and average macaron is huge. With places charging up to $3 a macaron, it's just not worth wasting so much on poor macarons.
We looked for our favorite cookies and our favorite all-around winner; Ladurée and La Maison du Chocolat were our overall favorites.
Is it embarrassing that our favorite macarons in Manhattan aren't made in Manhattan? Both of those shops make the macarons in Paris and fly them over to New York. It's the truth. And actually we're pretty lucky to be able to so easily procure real Parisian macarons in the city. But if you are set on having an New York-made macaron (which is understandable!), you'll have good luck with Epicerie Boulud, Bosie Tea Parlor, Payard, and Mille-Feuille.
Our Favorites ...
Best Overall: Ladurée »
Best Pistachio Macaron: Ladurée »
Best Chocolate Macaron: La Maison du Chocolat »
Best Vanilla Macaron: Ladurée »
Best Caramel Macaron: Mille-Feuille »
Best Raspberry Macaron: Ladurée »
Best Wild-Card Flavor, Passionfruit: Francois Payard Bakery »